I’m happy to learn and impart that another creative is using their platform to do the same.
Pavement is a modern-day parable about homelessness, from Manchester based writer/director, Jason Wingard, and featuring Steve Evets (Looking for Eric) and Liz White (Life on Mars), with filming taking place on location at the Manchester Metropolitan University Brooks Building.
After a decade of making award-winning short films and, most recently, two fantastic feature films, In Another Life and Eaten by Lions, Jason Wingard has been tempted back to making shorts with the creation of this new film about a homeless man sinking into the pavement.
The use of the word surreal to describe the film suggests this may be literally as well as perhaps metaphorically.
Whilst an initial injection of funding by The Uncertain Kingdom kick started the project, the challenge for Wingard and his crew is to make the film on a shoestring budget of £10,000 (£20,000 having been spent – the aim being to recoup back half), with all extra funds being donated to two Manchester charities Barakah Food Aid and The Mustard Tree.
Both organisations support local people in poverty and tackle the issues of homelessness.
Writer/Director, Wingard, says
This was an incredibly humbling experience and resorted our collective belief in human kindness. 320,000 people in Britain are now homeless and numbers keep rising. Our film tackles this dreadful statistic in a unique way.
Now Frozen Peas in an Old Tin Can was intended to be performed in the beer garden of the Kings Arms, Salford. But our delicious British Summer had other plans…
This was a slight disappointment as it was to be my first play in a beer garden (although not my first in the great outdoors). Disappointment quickly turned to happiness as we were directed down the stone steps into the bowels of the pub into the cellar – my first play in a cellar and I do love a good cellar (it is not for us to question why).
I really do like the title of the play but for lazy reasons I shall, going forward, refer to it simply as ‘Can. Although I could have written the full title several times over for the time it’s taken me to write this explanatory paragraph.
Anyway, ‘Can, written and directed by Joe Walsh and performed by Paul Tomblin (Barney), Leah Gray (Sarah), Craig Hodgkinson (Derek), Owen Murphy and Ella Fraser.
We meet the trio as they fantasise about where they’d take a holiday (in case you’re wondering, Southport – I get it, fun times had at Pleasureland in the 80s…). To do so, means to put on a street gig armed only with a guitar, a, yes, tin can of frozen peas (freaky dancing a plenty) and a pan and wooden spoon.
It made me ‘chuckle’ (great gag) and genuinely ‘laugh out loud’. Not like when you acknowledge that something is funny and you want to outwardly indicate that you appreciate ‘what they’ve done there’ by making a noise and smiling. There was actual involuntary laughter.
But of course there was a serious message being delivered here.
By the old school friend of Sarah’s we had the voice of ignorance, the homeless should be helping themselves, they’re lazy etc and so on. And we also had the back stories as to why these three people were out on the street living in the ‘fort’.
Sarah had lost a sister to cancer, Barney had unravelled when his grandad had died, smashing up his place of employment, Curry’s’ as a final act with debts and fines sending him straight to the streets, and Derek…
Now this was a bold device and if my deduction is knee-jerk and massively wrong, I apologise but Derek is a paedophile. Caught by his wife, he tells us, looking at images on the computer, who immediately called the police sending me to prison.
Derek is an affable chap, caring for the other two with an honesty and affection. But as an audience, what do we do with this information? Squirm, feel uneasy, shocked but also slightly impressed by that the writing took this brave leap which perhaps took away what could have gone down a fairytale, whimsical tale of twee togetherness on the streets.
Culminating in a singalong as we, the play’s audience became audience to Derek and The No Homes to Go (thank you for the rustic karaoke lyrics scrawled on cardboard – I’m shocking with a lyric), the production was immersive, heartfelt and even fun.
So as ‘Can made us laugh, sing, give money to the cause both in the play and in reality afterwards (details below), that hour in the pub on Sunday was brilliantly well spent (most fun I’ve had sober in a pub since I was granted that hallowed second packet of Quavers when I was 8).
Now for a touch of reality, any of us who live, work, visit Manchester will be no strangers to the growing issue of homelessness.
Doorways, pavements, canalside, underneath the arches, the problem cannot be avoided both conceptually and in actuality.
As the programme notes shocking point out, sleeping rough has increased by 102% in the U.K. since 2010.
To learn more about Shelter and to donate, please head to Shelter.org.uk
A funny and frank autobiographical solo-show, First Time (from Dibby Theatre) is written and performed by theatre-maker and HIV activist, Nathaniel Hall and returned to Sale Waterside Centre as part of Refract Festival.
Diagnosed just two weeks after his 17th birthday and only months after coming out as gay to his family, Nathaniel kept his HIV status from almost all for over 14 years.
In late 2017, Nathaniel ‘came out again’, as it were, and is now advocating for better contemporary representation of HIV in popular culture. The show is a vehicle to break down HIV stigma and contribute to the UNAIDS aim of ending HIV within a generation.
With humour, honesty, a great deal of both heart and heartbreak, Nathaniel Hall stood (and danced – nice Ketchup song moves) before us and told us his story.
Like all the best Fringe theatre, the set was simple, tube lighting in the form of a colour changing triangle (my favourite being blue to depict Stockport – that god forsaken pyramid!).
Accompanied by beats and bantz (yes I did that – I just needed a bit of alliteration) we were in his flat, on that bench where he met his first, at his prom, on his holiday when he first fell ill, in his doctor’s waiting room, in the clinic when he got his diagnosis…
The diagnosis that he wasn’t to share with his parents for another 14 years.
Like everyone else who was around at the time (I was very young though, ok?) the AIDS advert was terrifying in itself without me really understanding the substance behind it.
We were asked not to die of ignorance – whilst things have improved medically and concerning awareness there is still ignorance surround HIV and AIDS to this day.
Whilst not in the realms of Dot Cotton in Eastenders circa 1987 not wanting to wash Colin’s smalls in the launderette because a) he’s gay b) he must have full blown AIDS c) she’ll ‘catch it’ through touching his pants – yes I’m currently OBSESSED with classic Eastenders on Gold – there’s still lots for us all to learn.
And so, thank god (or who/whatever) we have people like Nathaniel who having contracted HIV at 16 has dealt/is dealing with his diagnosis in such a selfless, giving (funny and entertaining – no really, First Time is a one-man show of two halves, as it were) way.
An immersive experience, we took part in an HIV quiz – no we did!
Speaking of first times, I had one shouting
I love orgies
Like the candlelit vigil in Sackville Gardens at each Manchester Pride, we were shown images of those who had lost their fight whilst we held candles of our own.
Getting to me good and hard was the picture Nathaniel showed to us of himself in his cream suit at his High School Prom. You see he was waiting to pick up that suit when he met his first time encounter ‘Sam’ on a bench in Stockport in 2003.
It may be me applying the knowledge of what was to come when I saw that picture (and my failing eyesight) but I saw the little boy at the end of the film Big as he walks down the road in his too big Tom Hanks suit.
I’m sure Nathaniel’s cream suit fitted perfectly and he looked amazing. You get where I’m coming from.
I have a copy of the letter in my bag that Nathaniel wrote to his parents and eventually even gave them (not before it was anonymously read to crowds at one candlelit vigil by an actor).
I’m not crying you’re crying.
Yes Nathaniel is HIV+, contracting this from his first time (he doesn’t blame ‘Sam’ by the way). But do you know what? He’s a bloody good actor, writer and performer – funny, witty, creative and giving.
There are many times I’ve been to the theatre (literally and conceptually – not all plays take place on the stage), when I’ve thought ‘what a brilliant production, what a great story, what an excellent ‘play’ this is.’
And then there are times when I’ve left the idea that I’m at a play far behind and been drawn into the world before me on another level.
Seeing Tuesday by Studio ORKA, a Belgian company of hugely acclaimed actors and designers, was one of these rare occasions.
Performed in St Augustine’s, a Grade 1 listed Victorian church in Pendlebury, Salford, Tuesday tells the tale of an older man who looks back on his life, following his abandonment by his mother.
I baptise you Tuesday, he said, because I found you on a Tuesday – from now on, the most beautiful day of the week.
Tuesday (Titus de Voogdt) is brought up by the widowed Nester (Dominique Van Melder), along with son, Rene (Robrecht Vanden Thoren) who found him as a baby in the church where Nester works, and where the play is set.
Occasionally we see glimpses into the outside world through the church doors as people come and go, whilst Tuesday, from childhood to man, 1945 to present day, remains in his sanctuary.
We first enter the story with Tuesday, now a man clearly in his dotage, preparing for the funeral of Nester. Arriving early to the funeral, an elderly lady listens to Tuesday practise his eulogy, his own life story soon playing out before our eyes.
A mainstay of the story are Funeral Director, Benedicte (Tania van der Sanden) and daughter Stella (IIse de Koe) together with all aforementioned players forming one fairly happy, dysfunction not withstanding, family.
The tale is magical. So drawn in, I soon forgot I was in a church watching a play set in a church. I was just in their world.
There are books, films, productions that never quite leave you. Those which you may, perhaps, watch every year at Christmas, which embrace you and reach out to your inner child.
This is one such production. The characters are funny, human, warm, flawed, vulnerable, loving and likeable. The musical contributions, interludes, punctuations, delivered by the rather wonderful Studio ORKA chorus, are immersed into the story seamlessly, never awkwardly (I’m not a fan of the traditional musical where everyone breaks into song for no apparent reason in a toe-curlingly cringey way).
There is a sequence towards the end where accompanied only by the piano, Tuesday silently moves around his church/world/home, taking us all round the ‘set’, coming in and out of view, up and down ladders with an acrobatic grace which was incredibly moving, poignant and spine-tingling.
The tale is one of togetherness, finding comfort in those we love however those paths meet, and all those little events, experiences, seemingly unremarkable moments which make us who we are.
In short, I wish I could visit Tuesday’s world once a year as everyone needs a little magic, comfort and reminder once in a while of what life is all about.
I know, I know, twee – I’m being twee.
But I bet I’m not the only one over the course of the run that entered church to see a play and left feeling like they’d just been given a huge, lovely bearhug, care of Studio ORKA and Manchester International Festival.
I’ve documented my love for fringe theatre before.
On the one hand you get to see experimental, exciting, no-holds barred productions and on the other hand, you get to see theatre which feels real, familiar, gritty, passionate…
Our Kid, written by and starring Taran Knight, falls into the latter category and is all these things and very funny to boot too.
In the great theatre space upstairs at The Kings Arms, Taran Knight single-handedly took us through a tale of sibling rivalry, sibling love, sibling anger…
in Our Kid, Jimmy (Knight) tells of Tommy, his younger brother – golden child – the one Jimmy took the fall for for years, all against a backdrop of Manchester and Salford.
Indeed fringe ate itself as the venue, The Kings Arms, made a cameo on a couple of occasions throughout.
Via a range of pitch perfect accents depicting family members, a girlfriend and colourful acquaintances, the 50 minute production took us through decades of incidents, punctuated by a Mancunian soundtrack.
Indeed whilst not a wholly linear timeline musically, what did signpost us to each year and how much time had passed was the brilliantly funny device of Manchester United terrace chants.
Oh Robin Van Persie…
Ah, we’ve arrived at 2012 – gotcha.
City fans – brace yourselves…
I want you to see this brilliant play so no spoilers here but Taran Knight takes us through tragedy, anger, love, devastation and elation.
There’s much to laugh at too. Truth be told whilst the Northern Quarter is all too familiar to this writer, I don’t like Prosecco either…
As Knight filled the small space in an energetic and spirited performance, the peppering of local references never felt forced.
You felt like you were down the pub (the Salford Arms got heavily name-checked too), listening to that character. That bloke, Jimmy who’s alright – means no ‘arm – good ‘eart, shame what ‘appended etc. His poor mother…
A play that tapped right into the streets of Manchester – how austerity, domestic violence, drug culture, love can shape, challenge and divide people and their families.
Taran Knight had us fighting alongside Jimmy, looking out for Jimmy looking out for Tommy, shaking our heads at Jimmy, shaking our heads at Tommy…
It was meta. We were in a Salford pub in the world of a play in the world of Salford pubs including this Salford pub.
Manchester International Festival is your opportunity to see something different. Something new, something especially commissioned, someone new, someone big…
The Nico Project is the perfect case study of all of the above.
The late Nico, real name Christa Paffgenmade, entered the musical zeitgeist in 1967 with The Velvet Underground, and the ‘show’ is inspired by her 1968 album, The Marble Index.
With Maxine Peake in the title role and artistically directed by Sarah Frankcom, The Nico Project is billed as ‘a stirring theatrical immersion into her sound, her identity and the world in which she fought to be heard’.
Taken at face value and with or without a background knowledge of this artist/actor/model, her work, her predilections in life and, indeed music, before her premature death, the show is a 60 minute assault on the senses.
Assault is perhaps the the wrong word as it evokes negative connotations. Although given the haunting and troubled persona of the late Nico herself, the message being sent through the performance and indeed the musical orchestrations aren’t intending to take the audience on a nice stroll through the park. So yes, let’s stick with assault.
A company/outfit/cast of all female performers, the pre-reading tells us that the show ‘celebrates the potency of female creativity in a field dominated by men’.
Apparently, this wasn’t intentional but according to Maxine Peake in an interview with The Guardian ‘felt right…I could only seem to find male stories about Nico.’
Indeed, synonymous with Andy Warhol. Lou Reed, John Cale… and her relationship with the French actor, Alain Delon, it is perhaps perversely apt that the production is wholly brought to us by a solely female outfit.
To the show itself.
The Royal Northern College of Music brought not only the music to life, but did so with a visual performance to boot – they were striking in their choreography and acting as they interacted with Peake, both instruments in hand and without.
As the musical performance steadily reaches its crescendo throughout the hour, so does the unravelling of Nico’s mind and visuals laid before us – erratic lighting, hair let down and wild, shoes off…Peake, appearing on the balcony is a messiah-like moment both in her delivery and stature.
And, like much of the performance, it’s disturbing. It’s meant to be and frankly it’s reassuringly and acceptably so.
Watching Peake slip in and out of the persona and, indeed, accent (intentionally!) – from the familiar Lancashire voice into the clipped, groaning voice and intonation of Nico, is at best mesmerising, at worst frightening.
Indeed at the moment the theatre was plunged into absolute darkness for what was probably a minute or so but felt like hours, closing off one sense allowed a certain respite to gather one’s thoughts and, to be honest, panic slightly about what on earth was coming next (certainly for me, accompanied by a frisson of excitement).
My advice as with anything avant-garde, off kilter, experimental art is to go, absorb and see what emotions you take away with you. Don’t approach with a list of questions or immediately deconstruct).
Productions such as this and, indeed, events such as the Manchester International Theatre give you the gift of originality and expression of freedom. And this really is a gift.
And now for the Manchester connection – Nico did indeed visit Manchester in 1982 for a gig and never did leave (well, save for the odd European Tour).
Guess that makes her an Honorary Manc too…
The Nico Project runs until Sunday 21 July, at The Stoller Hall.